By MARSHA MERCER
Earl Long, governor of Louisiana in the 1940s and ‘50s, quipped: “When I die, I want to be buried in Louisiana, so I can stay active in politics.”
The line is good for a groan, but election fraud is no laughing matter. Our system of government relies on citizens’ believing that our elected officials hold power legitimately.
Election fraud is almost nonexistent, studies have found, and yet nearly every presidential campaign brings dire warnings that the election is about to be stolen.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain claimed before the 2008 election that Acorn, a group that organizes low-income communities, was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
Donald J. Trump is the latest to conjure election fraud. Not waiting for November, he is preemptively laying the groundwork for a “we wuz robbed” excuse for losing to Hillary Clinton.
“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged. I have to be honest,” the Republican presidential nominee said Monday at a rally in Ohio. Republicans need to be “watching closely” or the election will be “taken away from us,” he told Sean Hannity of Fox News.
“The voter-ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development,” he told The Washington Post Tuesday in an interview. “We may have people vote 10 times.”
Trump has a habit of seeing a stacked deck when things don’t go his way – and even when they do. During the primaries, he railed against Republican Party rules he said were rigged against him, even though the rules were set before he entered the race -- and he won handily.
Bernie Sanders also complained the system was rigged -- against him and in favor of Clinton. In Sanders’ case, however, Democratic National Committee emails leaked last month backed up the claim.
Candidates preach to the converted about a rigged system. The 2000 election debacle in Florida fueled lingering cynicism. More than half the voters believe the way parties pick presidential candidates is “rigged,” a Reuters/Ipsos poll found in April.
Trump now claims Clinton and the Democratic Party rigged the presidential debates to fall on NFL game nights – even though an independent commission, not the political parties, set the schedule. The debates were scheduled in September 2015; the NFL schedule was set in March 2016, PolitiFact reported.
Election fraud is the rationale for tough new state laws requiring photo IDs to vote. Thirty-two states have voter ID laws, and 18 require photo IDs.
In the last few weeks, however, federal courts have ruled against five state voting laws, suggesting in some cases that the supposed cures for fraud actually would rig the system against minority voters.
North Carolina’s 2013 law targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision” and was “one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history,” an appeals court ruled.
A federal judge blocked North Dakota’s voter ID law from going into effect, saying it made it hard for Native Americans to vote. He cited “a total lack of any evidence to show voter fraud has ever been a problem in North Dakota.”
A federal appeals court in Texas ruled that state’s voter ID law discriminatory and ordered a lower court to come up with a temporary fix before November.
A federal judge told Wisconsin to change its procedures and make it easier for voters to get IDs so they can vote. Kansas must count the votes of thousands of people who didn’t show proof of citizenship when they registered to vote.
In the judicial pipeline is a voter ID case from Alabama, scheduled to be heard in federal court next year. In Virginia, state legislators and the governor are fighting over voting rights for 200,000 felons.
While some may joke about dead-people voting and ballot-box stuffing, we can’t forget that in many places elections truly were rigged against minorities for more than a hundred years with poll taxes and literacy tests. In the 21st century, we need to work together to ensure integrity and fairness at the polls.
We can’t allow any candidate to destroy the legitimacy of our election simply because he fears defeat.
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.